Title: Situation: Fragile (Rules of Engagement 4/?)
Rating: PG (And can I just say I never saw myself applying that rating to ANYTHING in this fandom?!)
Disclaimer: These characters are fictional composites and are in no way linked to the actual men upon which the book and movie (which belong to Mark Bowden and Scott Free, respectively) are based. The only thing this is intended to infringe upon are the bounds of decency.
Author's notes: Well, again this is NOT the chapter I planned on writing, but Eversmann is just so pretty and has all of this *waves hands expansively* with Hoot and, well, Sanderson just has to handle that. He just has to figure out how. Concrit is welcome, and please slash responsively.
The pounding in Sanderson’s ears had been deafening, and he wasn’t able to tell if it had been the striking of Hoot’s boots on the pavement as they ran, or the beating of his heart in exhausted relief that Hoot had been there to run beside him.
His heart is pounding like that now. Not jack-hammer scared, three-round burst staccato thudding, but a rhythmic sound reminiscent of Blackhawk rotors and heavy boots. And the chest pressing against his own echoes it, a warm steady pulse in the chaos surrounding them.
Their hearts beat in sync and it’s calmingly rhythmic, like Hoot’s breathing against his neck, slow controlled inhales and exhales that whispered like a like a warm wind against his skin, taking in a moment of peace before jumping on a Humvee for the trip back into hell. It went without saying that Hoot was going back out. Hoot always did. This was Hoot reloading. First ammunition, then food, then a precious few minutes of this…contact. It was Hoot’s own particular rhythm, one with which Sanderson was intimately familiar.
This was risky, even in a darker corner, they were still in a crowded stadium in broad daylight. But Hoot required, and like everything else, Sanderson did provide. They had kept this equilibrium maintaining rhythm for years, breathing peace and fortitude into each other, finding closure and healing in the press of bodies, homeostasis via the slide of skin on skin.
It went without saying also, that Sanderson was staying. He was staying because Hoot would need him there when it was all finally over. He would need Sanderson rested, with water, food and a place to sleep ready. He would need Sanderson to find him, to grab him and steer him somewhere quiet, sit him down and store his gear. He would need Sanderson when he turned off his Delta autopilot and started thinking, need him to banish the “could haves” and “should haves.” He would need absolution, not for what he had done, but for what he had not, had been unable to do and they both knew that each other was the only thing either of them found holy, or considered even remotely sacred.
Sanderson is needed, and that is enough. Whatever is going on in Hoot’s head, Sanderson is confident in his ability to deal with it.
Hoot’s breathing changes, the rise and fall of his chest quicker and Sanderson knows to the breath when exactly to loosen his arms and let Hoot pull away. Those dark eyes search Sanderson’s , heavy with things best left unsaid at leave-taking because they sound too much like good-bye.
Hoot’s soft “See you” is almost lost in the rumble of diesel engines, and he’s walking away, climbing in, moving out.
Sanderson follows like a smoke trail to the staging area, and watches the convoy leave.
The tall form of Eversmann moves into his peripheral vision and Sanderson notices that they both are focused on the same point, vanishing into the horizon. He tears his eyes away from the second to last Humvee and observes the young sergeant.
The past twenty-four hours are etched into his face, evidenced in the weary set of his shoulders. Sanderson feels a sympathetic twinge. The young man had learned what it meant to lead, had learned the awful responsibility that came with making the calls and following them through. He’d learned that when you gave the orders, sometimes you watched your men, comrades, friends die as a result.
And apparently, been impressed by Hoot. Sanderson thinks that Hoot must have given him the Talk. He nearly chuckles then, at the idea of a combat-laconic Hoot trying to comfort Eversmann. When Hoot was in the zone, he had the all the diplomatic grace of a pitbull with a hangover.
Eversmann turns, and Sanderson realizes that the sergeant must have heard his almost-chuckle. His eyes are full of worry and pain, and Sanderson, moving forward without thinking to clasp his shoulder, begins to wonder if it is his personal mission in life to be the source of comfort for troubled dark-eyed men.
“Hoot gave you the Talk?” There is the barest ghost of a smile, and then a nod.
“Good, then I won’t waste time in repetition. “ He slips an arm around Eversmann’s wider shoulders and steers them both into the corner that he and Hoot had just vacated. They sit in silence across from one another, as if they cannot decide to be parallel or perpendicular. They hydrate and soak in the lack of urgency as the sun sinks lower in the sky. For now, at least, their job is done, and in this wartime microcosm, the semblance of peace and the late afternoon sunshine create a red-gold nimbus about the events of the past twenty-four hours. It blunts the immediacy of recent death and loss, the aureate brightness dimming the pain by a fraction, and that fraction is their saving grace.
“He was right.” Sanderson cocks his head inquisitively.
“Hoot. He said I’d have plenty of time to think about it all later.” Sanderson can see the rising tide of guilt in the younger man’s eyes. He sighs, thinking that this really must be his lot in life, and leans forward, taking the dark eyed sergeant by the shoulders, pinning him with a fierce gaze.
“Yeah, you do, and you need to think about it. But don’t get lost in it, in what ifs and should haves. Do what you have to in order to deal, and let it go. It will kill you otherwise. “
Sanderson hopes the whimper is his imagination, because it sounds like a dying thing and he refuses to accept that it came from the man in front of him. It is always harder on the men in charge, the ones that make the calls and shoulder the responsibility. Eversmann cannot be allowed to lose it right now, not here in this crowded stadium with a half-broken Steele and the reeling and exhausted men of his chalk nearby.
Lost. Eversmann looks lost, casting his eyes about for a safe visual harbor, looking everywhere but Sanderson until older man reaches out to grasp him by the chin, forcing eye contact.
“Hold it together, Matt. Just a little while longer“ Sanderson tries for gruff, unconsciously imitating Steele, and it comes out slightly pleading. He hears the rumble of diesel engines in the distance.
Eversmann nods, his breathing rapid as he tries to swallow the knot in his throat, and his hands are suddenly clenched, knuckles white, in Sanderson’s shirtfront. Sanderson cups his nape in a gritty but gentle palm and that dark head drops tiredly, eyes closing, into the curve of his shoulder.
“It’s nothing.” The sergeant’s muffled voice cracks a little. “Nothing.”